Sudan: RSF targets Islamists tied to former regime with wave of arrests in Khartoum

Sudan: RSF targets Islamists tied to former regime with wave of arrests in Khartoum
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have carried out a string of political arrests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, predominantly targetting Islamist figures they claim have ties to the former regime.
5 min read
20 May, 2023
Sudanese army soldiers sit atop a tank in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, on April 20, 2023 [AFP via Getty]

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have launched a campaign of arrests across Khartoum targeting civilians linked to the former regime of ousted ex-president Omar Bashir, as well as supporters of the army, retired officers, and Islamist leaders.

The latest arrest was of Mohamed Ali al-Jazouli, chair of the Broad Islamic Current coalition, an alliance of several Islamist parties with links to the former regime.

According to al-Jazouli's office, four RSF military jeeps suddenly arrived at al-Jazouli's residence in Khartoum on Wednesday. RSF fighters then threatened to strike the building, forcing him to come out of his house, at which point he was arrested alongside four of his relatives.

Al-Jazouli was outspoken in his support for the army against the RSF during the current conflict which has been raging since April 15.

His coalition strongly opposed the framework agreement signed last December between the army, the RSF and a number of civilian groups, which aimed to solve the political crisis in Sudan.

Al-Jazouli had also repeatedly called on the Sudanese people to fight alongside the army.

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On Tuesday 16 May, the RSF arrested the former head of the now dissolved National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum state, Anas Omar, from his home in al-Mamura, a suburb in east Khartoum, taking him to an unknown location, according to his family.

Omar was a high-ranking intelligence officer during the Bashir era, during which he also worked as governor of East Darfur state.

At the time, he enjoyed good relations with the RSF, which was at the helm of the Bashir regime's counterinsurgency campaign to crush armed rebel movements in Darfur.

Last week the RSF arrested Al-Haj Adam Youssef, former vice president of ex-president Bashir, at his home in Al Azhari, south Khartoum.

Reports also indicated that the RSF had arrested several other retired army officers believed to have served under Bashir and had been in the NCP.

Former RSF officers who left at the start of the current conflict were also detained by the organisation.

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The RSF was established in 2013 by the Bashir regime, who nurtured the militia carefully until it became a powerful military and political force. In 2019, however, it took part in overthrowing the regime, which was seen by Bashir supporters as an act of betrayal.

Tensions have increased between the two camps since the coup led by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in October 2021.

RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ("Hemedti"), later remarked that the coup had "opened the door for the former regime to return to power, and had been a step to obstruct Sudan's democratic transition".

Now the RSF believes that behind the decision to wage war on it, and the escalation against it that preceded this by the army, are army officers closely linked to the former regime who are planning their return to power.

Hisham Osman Alshwany, the official spokesman for the Sudan Call coalition, described what happened to Anas Omar and the others as criminal kidnappings carried out by a rebel militia that doesn't respect "laws or morals".

Alshwany told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "This kind of crime is without precedent in Sudanese politics despite the various conflicts Sudan has passed through".

He stressed that the RSF kidnappings were a desperate attempt to entrench lies about remnants of the former regime, even as they [the RSF] commit all kinds of other violations going as far as killing and rape.

He called on human rights activists to work to expose and resist these violations against Sudanese citizens.

He expected the continued detention of civilians "because this rebel militia is attacking all the Sudanese people, and it could do anything," adding that he believes due to its "impotence" on the battlefield and the impossibility of its victory, that it would increase its violations, "including the kidnapping and arrest of civilian politicians".

Meanwhile, political analyst Yakoub Al-Damouki said relations between Hemedti and the Islamists – in particular the NCP – had become deeply hostile.

Hemedti accuses the Islamists of launching the coup, conspiring against him and blocking the democratic transition. On the other side, the Islamists accuse the RSF leader of supporting a group of leftist parties, in particular those who were part of the framework agreement group.

"The arrests of leaders affiliated to the Islamic bloc is significant in more ways that one," Al-Damouki. "First of all, by doing this, the RSF want to attract the support of some of the states which are looking for any way to prevent the Islamists from taking power. Additionally, the RSF wants this step to send a message to the Sudanese people, in particular, the anti-Islamist left."

Al-Damouki expected that all the detainees would be released because the RSF would want to prevent itself from becoming even more isolated after the abuses carried out by some of its members. Moreover, it would seek to avoid provoking the Islamists into entering the war directly alongside the armed forces.

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Ahmad Abdin, the RSF's media advisor, said the RSF had clarified the reasons for this war since the day violence broke out, and had identified the political forces responsible.

They had always announced in their statements that they had lists of Islamists who were wanted by the RSF, with the goal of curbing their roles in expanding the war and inflaming it further.

The RSF believe that "the Islamist organisation within the army, in coordination with the hard-line political wing in the Islamist movement – they are the ones who started this war, and the arrests have been carried out on this basis," said Abdin.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.